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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Consuming Joy?

Written by: on February 21, 2019

I cannot imagine the Western Christian that could read Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion and not have at least one prick of the heart. For me, there were many. It is extremely difficult, given our embeddedness in consumerism, to imagine a world of non-consumption Christendom. Miller gives me pause and greater discomfort on what was already uncomfortable.

I believe his premise gets at the convolution of the relationship between consumerism and Christianity – that it is not the beliefs or values Christians hold to but the disconnection of those to our daily practices and behaviors.[1]At a value level, real Christians would choose less consumption over abhorrent labor slums. But at a behavior level, we are so far removed and divorced from this reality that we behave the same way we always have. We want ‘a religion that cares about the poor, stands against injustice, and so on…but the ease with which we are able to negotiate such disconnects between belief and practice is the central concern of this study.’[2]I attest to this in my own life and the divide raises many questions for me.

One of the piercings I experienced was when Miller uses Guy Debord’s work to assert how all of culture is now commodified. He says something striking. ‘If Marx’s analysis of early capitalism described a shift from ‘being to having,’ Debord sensed an equally profound shift under way around him, this one from ‘having to appearing’.[3]What an apt description of our social media era. We chase down the ‘good life’ and yet it never quite delivers. It is like we have traded a simple life of ‘being’ that is found in relationship with God, others and work for one that is never satisfied and continues to amass for the sake of appearing like we are satisfied.

I would like ‘being’ to define me more than it does; and I would like ‘having’ not drive me so much; and I would like to let go of ‘appearing’ as a way of proving my worth. This sounds like sanctification.

A good starting place for this work within us is with an increased awareness of commodification, for which I am indebted to both Miller and Polanyi. But now what to do with this awareness? And how do we respond? How do we live and buy and give? I have more questions than answers and offer one simple thought among the several I have.

As we attend to our theology, may we take more seriously the invitation to both death and joy. Death and joy are not mutually exclusive. Our hedonistic, selfish nature must die and be ‘born again’ in Christ. The Gospel calls and empowers us to this. And the ongoing work of sanctification aids in the taming of our blind consumerism and calls for us to daily take up our cross. Yes, it will require death.

And there is also great joy to attend to as we journey with Christ. Max Weber’s account of the Puritans’ disdain for worldly joy and leisure has had me thinking[4]. God did not create humans for only work and labor. And yet we know that hedonism and blind consumption do not lead to deep joy. In fact, they lead in the opposite direction. And even though I have much to learn from our Puritan tradition, I am unwilling to move towards more austerity and somberness in a way to quenches real joy.

C.S. Lewis asserted that Christians should be the most joy-filled of all humans. Do we pay attention to the differences between deep joy and mere entertainment? Could this be a key, ironically, to keep consumerism at bay more and more in our hearts?

Lewis says ‘All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desires. Our best havings are wantings.’[5]

Joy reminds. May I be reminded that I am a pilgrim and this world is not my true home. I am not here to consume and possess and amass. May God help me to love and relate more than I use and discard. God is this way in ways it is difficult for me to fathom. And may I hold anything I ‘have’ as a means of showing me what I truly ‘want’. Amen.

 

[1]Miller, Vincent J. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: Continuum International, 2003, 17.

[2]Ibid., 19

[3]Ibid., 59

[4]Weber, Max. Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus. Florence: Routledge, 2001. Accessed February 21, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central. Loc. 1871.

[5]Martindale, Wayne, and Jerry Root. The Quotable Lewis: an Encyclopedic Selection of Quotes from the Complete Published Works of C. S. Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989, 289.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

8 responses to “Consuming Joy?”

  1. Hi Andrea. Thanks for your post and reminding us of the proper source of joy — and it’s only found in right relationship with Jesus.

    Miller reminds us that the way we search for meaning, happiness, significance, etc. is the same as when we consume goods. It’s a misdirection. He also did say, as your pointed out, that the most significant thing we can do to counteract the commodification of culture is to point out the process that lies beneath our unconscious consumeristic behavior.

    Just like you, my heart is heavy because we have uncritically accepted things and bought into the commodification of our faith. May God have mercy on us.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Thank you, Harry. This was a heavy read for me this week and I struggled to figure out ways to choose otherwise and not be paralyzed by what he presented.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, you are right that this book did pierce me a bit. It really made me think about what is important. I think we have to keep ourselves in check and find joy in simple things. Thank God that He is able to pierce us. It means we still have life in Him.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Mary, I love that! And I needed the encouragement this week because it was so sobering & introspective – which is good. But I need to be reminded that it is because we are found in Him and loved perfectly by Him that we are able to be pierced and grow. Appreciate you.

  3. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    “Do we pay attention to the difference between deep joy and mere entertainment?” – This question is such a probing one. As I think about a potential answer, I wonder if the increased entertainment value in some corporate church gatherings increases this confusion. Do we set incorrect expectations? How do we teach and model deep joy in these environments? Let’s keep wrestling until we find an answer. You are a gift!

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Joy. Have you ever wondered why it’s a resource for Christians and what it’s source really is? Have a look at what I wrote on seans post. Think about what brings most joy, the cross or the incarnation? It’s something I have been doing a lot of thinking about in recent times.

  5. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I appreciate you connecting consumption to the need for Joy. Back in my youth, I heard a message, (by Rev. Peter Cowley) that I’ve repeated over the years and expanded it slightly. He made a grid that looked at what God made us for (Joy, Peace, Love), the best the world offers (happiness, security, popularity)and what we settle for (entertainment/pleasure, Financial freedom, sex/lots of facebook friends). I think this really sums up what consumerism is offering and where we settle for even less. Does this resonate with you? If so, how might the church be complicit in this ‘lowering the bar’ of what to aim for/expect? Bless you my friend!

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Jenn- woah. This is brilliant. I may need to borrow this in the future! I love that grid and it definitely resonates. Where the church lowers the bar is tricky for me to respond to, especially as I been around mostly attractional church models the last decade or so. How do we engage those far from Christ? Maybe we can do better at what Sean is suggesting? Maybe it isn’t as dependent on excellence and performance as some may think. I come back to relationships – our church is big and excellent and some are attracted to that but people grow and stay because of spiritual friendship. People move on if not grounded in relationships. I will have to say more in person. Ha.

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